Victor Serge

To René Lefeuvre


From Revolutionary History, vol. 8 No. 3, 2003, pp. 368–69.
Translated by Ian Birchall.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

My Dear Lefeuvre

I think the publication of W. White’s reports on the USSR without any critical commentary was a mistake. Doubtless they contain a modicum of truth. But the tone he adopts is not that of an objective reporter. The different parts of his narrative are arranged a bit too much like the strip cartoons in Sunday newspapers which the American public is so fond of. This is so much the case that, from the second issue, you thought it appropriate to embellish the text with Canard Enchaîné style drawings, as though the destiny of the Russian people were a joking matter! White does not always take the trouble to seek an explanation for the facts he observes. To take one example, noting that there are few old people on the streets, he wonders whether the Russians of the older generation have died of hunger, have been shot, or whether they are simply lost in the crowd because of the high birth rate. Then he moves on. It’s a strange method which allows him to insinuate the worst, without taking the trouble to check anything.

Above all, he should be criticised — something that various English socialist and liberal weeklies which reviewed his book did not fail to do — for constantly resorting to a comparison between the standards of living in the USA and in the USSR, when the two countries are at very different stages in their evolution, and when the latter has been sorely tried by the war, whereas the former derived from it the economic advantages of which we are aware. White’s aim is obviously to prove to his compatriots that the USA, thanks to the capitalist regime, is a paradise, and the USSR a hell.

If I question the value of White’s account, it is not in order to divert attention from the defects and social inequalities of the Soviet regime. I don’t think we are ‘playing the reactionary game’, as the Stalinists call it, when we seek truth elsewhere than in descriptions of the USSR inspired by an artificial enthusiasm. But accounts like White’s can only serve any use if they are compared to others, as well as to documents of Soviet origin. It was not enough to say that ‘White’s ideas are very different from our own’; you should have made the necessary reservations and criticisms. You should at least have pointed out that the food situation has considerably improved for all social categories since White was in the country. British journalists confirm what Soviet sources say on this point. Perhaps you should also have made a moral judgement of this gentleman who sentimentalises about the poverty of the Russian people, but is quite happy for it to be massacred for the greater profit of the American arms manufacturers.

The American review Politics, which is very firmly anti-Stalinist, but no less firmly anti-war, has recently made a withering criticism of warmongering propaganda against the USSR, which in certain circles in the USA has become the Number One Enemy, replacing Nazi Germany. White’s reports should be linked to this propaganda, although he did not wait for the end of the war to publish them. We all agree in thinking that a definitive break between the former allies would involve great danger for humanity, and thus we do not want France to be dragged into either camp. We should certainly resist any Soviet interference in the political life of our country. But, as one of our comrades writes, France’s economic recovery cannot be ensured without American aid. To what extent could France avail itself of this aid without losing its sovereignty or being hindered in its development towards socialism? This is a question that should be discussed in Masses. In any case, one thing is sure, we must not echo in our columns, even unconsciously, the chauvinist campaigns being conducted on the other side of the Atlantic.

If the Soviet regime is to be criticised, let it be from a socialist and working-class point of view. If we must let American voices be heard, let them be those of sincere democrats and friends of peace, and not chauvinistic demagogues; let them be those of the workers who will one day, we hope, succeed in organising themselves into an independent party.

Best wishes

Postscript: I have received your September letter. But you have not received the one I sent you at the beginning of the summer, and which I sent together with the attached letter which I asked you to publish in Masses. In all sincerity, and leaving aside my opinions on the USSR, the publication of these reports shocked me deeply, and I was sorry that what I had written appeared in the same issues. I wondered if we were still speaking the same language. What was more serious is that the other articles made accommodations to Gaullism and Christianity (until the third issue), approved British foreign policy and, while deploring the clash between the two blocs, did not formulate any specific criticism of American imperialism. In such a context, the publication of these reports, together with others to which I have no objection in principle, since they tried to approach things from the socialist point of view, took on the significance of adhesion to the Western bloc.

I understand that the Stalinist danger alarms you. But it must not make us lose sight of our overall view. We must not play into the hands of an anti-Communist bloc, and, after the first issues of Masses, we deserved to be criticised for doing so. The CP has kept its grip on a large part of the working class. We must be able to win to our cause elements who today are following the Stalinists. Don’t imagine that if we follow our present path we shall succeed in doing so. We cannot adopt a purely negative attitude to the CP. We shall get nowhere if we seem more preoccupied with criticising Stalinism than with defending the working class. The reactionary danger is still there, and in practice we shall often have to act alongside the Communists.

One further point. I have just read the American reviews which appeared after the Yugoslav incident and the show of naval force in the Mediterranean. The tone is worrying. The danger of warmongering seems to me more serious on this side. For the moment, the USSR cannot wage war. I ask you to consider this.

I recovered from pleurisy at the beginning of the summer. Since then I have had quite serious mastoiditis. That is just beginning to clear up. I am concentrating on my thesis work, which is how I earn my living. As soon as I can, I shall collaborate with the review.

The letter about White can, I think, be published — or at least the essential passages — that will give you the opportunity for a clarification which I think is necessary.

I have not received the Spartacus. Until you hear from me again, do not send anything and don’t write anything which has a political content. I should like to believe that I am mistaken, and that my mail is not being intercepted. But …

Last updated on 26 May 2021